Sex addiction is defined as any sexually related, compulsive behavior acted out regardless of the negative consequences to the individual’s life including causing severe stress on their family, friends, and/or their work environment. Sex addiction has also been referred to as sexual compulsion or dependency. Regardless of the name, the result is the same--it can dominate a person’s life. A person with sex addiction will make sex a priority over his or her family, friends, and work. Acting out the sexual addiction may cause him or her to sacrifice what he or she cherishes the most.
Common Behaviors in Sex Addiction
Psychotherapy for Sex Addiction
The Medical Model's Treatment of Sex Addiction
Is Sex Addiction in the DSM?
There is no single behavior pattern for sex addiction. However, when sex addiction has taken control of a person’s life and it has become unmanageable, it could include the following behaviors (it is important to note that not all people with sex addiction will become sex offenders):
Therapy examines the patterns and rituals of the person who has sex addiction along with his or her sexual history, usually beginning at a young age. Psychotherapy also treats any sexual abuse a person may have experienced as child or adolescent and helps a person make any connections to his or her acting out behaviors. In therapy, a person learns to identify his or her triggers and danger zones that can contribute to a tendency to want to repeat past behaviors. Therapy may also identify a person’s automatic negative thoughts, so that he or she can learn to stop unwanted thought patterns that contribute to undesirable behaviors. It is important that an individual seek treatment from a professional that has received training specifically in sexual addiction and has also worked with individuals in the past that have had a successful recovery plan.
Therapists may also include contracting with the individual to participate in a weekly support group, establish an accountability circle with at least two other people recovering from sex addiction, find a mentor/sponsor who they meet with at least twice a month, and/or read recommended books between sessions to further their insight of their condition.
The medical model examines the cause of sex addiction by physiological factors. However, there is no specific drug therapy for sex addiction. Therefore, psychiatric drugs usually are prescribed that can treat the psychological conditions associated with the addiction. People with sex addiction are in some cases prescribed antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Depression is a common coexisting condition with sex addiction. In some cases, a person with sex addiction is treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In these cases, medications such as Prozac and Anafranil may be prescribed by a psychiatrist to curb the compulsion.
It is suggested that when a person with sex addiction is engaged in sex–related activity, they are getting the highest reward in the brain system by producing dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. This contributes to the person becoming addicted to producing these chemicals, as these chemicals produce a high. There is also research that suggests a pre-existing condition such as ADHD may lead to obsessive-compulsive sexual behaviors that the person uses to cope with the untreated ADHD. Therefore, psycho stimulant medications such as Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Focaline may be prescribed to treat the underlying ADHD.
Sex addiction is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM-IV). According to Chester Schmidt, chair of the DSM-IV Sexual Disorder Work Group, there is “no scientific data to support a concept of sexual behavior that is called sex addiction. It is more like a symptom of other psychological problems like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or bipolar disorder.” However, many sex addiction professionals are hopeful that this will change in the expansion of the diagnostic choices in 2013. Until sex addiction is formally included in the DSM-V, professionals derive a “diagnosis” through assessment protocols specifically designed for the addiction. According to data provided by Patrick Carnes, many people who have sex addiction also have co-occurring addictions such as chemical dependency, eating disorders, workaholism, compulsive spending, and gambling, to name a few.